Jay Westbrook gets people. As one of Cleveland’s longest-serving councilmen, Westbrook spent 34 years listening and talking to residents of Cleveland and advocating for LGBTQ rights, removing guns from the streets and fighting against blight and urban decay.
“I’ve always felt city council is the strongest point of access that people have to local government,” says Westbrook, who served as council president from 1990 to 1999. “We should be careful to not become our own obstacle, to be a servant of people’s interests.”
But even in retirement, Westbrook couldn’t stop thinking about how to help people. So in 2014, he joined the Western Reserve Land Conservancy as a special project manager. “This was a very good way of continuing to use my interest and my strengths to help distressed neighborhoods in Cleveland,” he says.
Through the WRLC’s Thriving Communities program, Westbrook helps support county land banks, plants trees and secures funding for demolition of vacant and abandoned properties such as in the Buckeye-Shaker Square, Buckeye-Woodhill and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods, where more than 570 of 1,000 abandoned properties have been demolished.
“It aides homeowners in growing confidence knowing that they’re not going to continue to see declining value in their property,” he says.